By Jeff Maurer
People everywhere want to know what they can do to fight climate change. There are a lot of things they can do: they can promote clean energy, drive fuel-efficient cars, and reduce energy waste to name a few solutions. But one of the simplest and most effective things they can do is something many of us do every day: recycle.
People don’t often think of recycling as a way to fight climate change, but it is. Recycling reduces the need to mine and process new materials which produces greenhouse gas emissions. And by reducing the amount of trash we send to landfills, we cut both carbon dioxide emissions from incinerating waste and methane emissions from trash decomposing in landfills, which is one of the most potent greenhouse gases. Recycling paper products also reduces the need to cut down trees that trap greenhouse gases.
The US recycling rate has been trending steadily upward since the 1970s; while only seven percent of municipal solid waste (trash) was recycled in 1970, 34 percent was recycled in 2010. This is great progress, but we still have a long way to go. The almost 10 million tons of paper containers and packaging we throw away every year could save the energy equivalent of 1.6 billion gallons of gasoline. Our aluminum can recycling rate is only 50 percent, well behind countries like Brazil (94 percent), Japan (91 percent), and Germany (89 percent). There is plenty of room for progress.
America Recycles Day – organized by Keep America Beautiful and sponsored by EPA and others – is every November 15. It’s a great opportunity for Americans to think about ways to recycle more and waste less. There are a lot of ways to do that – creating or joining a recycling event, taking the pledge to increase your recycling rate (or have your place of work do it!), or following one of the many recycling tips on the web page (americarecyclesday.org). By doing so, you’ll reduce waste, protect the natural environment, and help to reduce the release of gasses that cause climate change.
Climate change is the great environmental challenge of our time. Earth’s average temperature has risen by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century and is projected to rise between 2 to 11.5 degrees over the next 100 years. 2012 is on pace to be the hottest year on record, and each of the past 10 years is one of the 11 warmest years ever recorded. Nobody knows precisely what the effects of climate change will be, but most models predict more intense storms, sea level rise, heat waves droughts, and a host of other effects that have led some climatologists to drop the phrase “global warming” in favor of “global weirding”. This is why climate change is becoming a larger part of the national conversation; people know that something needs to be done and they want to be part of the solution.
Recycling is one part of the solution. We know which strategies work to increase recycling: making recycling easy, providing incentives to recycle, and educating people about the benefits of recycling. We’ve seen these strategies work across the country and around the world. But the best way to increase our recycling rate is for each individual to make the choice to recycle more. That’s what we hope people will do on America Recycles Day. For people who want to do their part to fight climate change, recycling is a practical and meaningful step.
About the Author: Jeff is a speechwriter and public affairs specialist. He started in EPA’s Washington, DC office in 2005 and moved to EPA’s Region 2 office in New York in 2011. Before joining EPA, Jeff served in the Peace Corps in Morocco. He is an avid soccer fan and part-time standup comedian, and can periodically be found performing at clubs around New York.